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Merkle|RKG Releases Its Q1 Digital Marketing Report

April 21, 2015
Columbia, MD

Merkle (www.merkle.com), a leading technology-enabled, data-driven performance marketing agency, announced that Merkle|RKG released its Q1 2015 Digital Marketing Report today. The report analyzes trends in paid search, SEO, social media, product ads, display advertising, comparison shopping engines, and more, providing comprehensive and detailed insights into digital marketing trends using data from its vast client base.

Key themes from Merkle|RKG’s Q1 2015 report include divergent performance trends for Google and Bing, highlighted by a stall in Google click growth and a continued increase in Bing Ads traffic. Mobile devices also continue to see an increase in traffic for both paid and organic search channels. Meanwhile, Google’s algorithm update will take “mobile-friendliness” into account, which may significantly impact mobile search results and cause major brands without mobile-friendly sites to see a decrease in ranking.

Google Click Growth Drops to 0.2% Year-Over-Year, Down from 12% Growth in Q4 of 2014

Spending growth on Google decelerated from 19% in Q4 2014 to 13% in Q1 2015, as click traffic grew by just 0.2% year-over-year and cost-per-click (CPC) rose by 13%. Google’s click growth was negatively impacted by several factors, including slowing tablet growth, the maturation of the Product Listing Ad (PLA) market, as well as the loss of Google’s default search provider status on Firefox, which resulted in a 2% shift of U.S. search traffic share to Yahoo.

However, Merkle|RKG data suggests the deceleration in growth may also be a consequence of Google showing fewer ads for each search query, resulting in fewer ad impressions available to advertisers (down 17% year-over-year in Q1). The decision to show fewer ads would likely result in a lower total ad click-through-rate (CTR) for Google, but the move could be revenue-positive if it drove more of the remaining traffic to higher-priced ads. Merkle|RKG data shows that CPCs rose 13% in Q1, while first page minimum bid estimates grew by a factor of between two and three over the past year.

46% of Fortune 500 and 29% of Internet Retailer Top 500 Companies could Drop in Ranking as a Result of Google’s Mobile Algorithm Update

Starting April 21, Google will expand the use of “mobile-friendliness” as a signal in its mobile ad rankings. Websites will be evaluated on a page-by-page basis, and those that have not received a “mobile-friendly” designation from Google will likely see a drop in mobile traffic. With mobile devices now accounting for 47% of all Google organic traffic, and the majority of that traffic coming from phones, site traffic for companies across all industries stands to be markedly affected by this change.

As of early April, 46% of Fortune 500 companies and 29% of Internet Retailer (IR) 500 sites had not received Google’s “mobile-friendly” designation. IR 500 sites were more likely to be mobile-friendly due to the internet-based, consumer-facing natures of their websites; they were also more likely to employ responsive design websites, the use of which Google recommends over m. sites.

Search Engine Traffic Share on Firefox Gives Clues into How a Change in Safari’s Default Search Provider May Impact Search Share

Firefox switched its default search engine to Yahoo from Google in December of 2014, which resulted in Google’s Firefox search share dropping from 74% to 51%. However, throughout the change, Google has maintained a majority of Firefox search traffic, with its share reaching 55% at the end of Q1 2015. Overall, the switch resulted in a 2% shift in US paid search clicks from Google to Yahoo.

With Google’s status as Safari’s default search provider status in question, the Firefox data can provide clues as to how traffic may be affected in the event of a change by Apple. With iOS and desktop Safari users producing 37% of paid search clicks, nearly four times as much traffic is at stake if Safari’s default search provider were to change.

Other Notable Q1 2015 Highlights Include:

Paid Search

  • Year-over-year (Y/Y) growth in paid search spending fell from 21% in Q4 2014 to 17% in Q1 2015. CPC growth accelerated to 10% Y/Y, while click growth weakened to a 7% Y/Y increase.
  • Bing Ads paid search spending increased 36% Y/Y in Q1 2015, driven by a 38% increase in paid clicks, which were buoyed by Yahoo becoming the default search provider for Firefox.
  • Google Product Listing Ad (PLA) click growth slowed to 19%; however, PLAs continued to produce an increased percentage of retailer paid search clicks, reaching 35% of traffic share this quarter.
  • Phones and tablets produced 42% of paid search clicks and 32% of ad spend in Q1. Phone clicks rose 42% Y/Y, however tablet click growth slowed markedly to 9% Y/Y.

Organic Search and Social

  • Organic search produced 33% of site visits on average in Q1. Organic search visits were up 14% overall, driven by a 54% Y/Y increase on mobile devices.
  • Mobile devices produced 55% of all social media visits in Q1 2015, up from 41% a year earlier.

Comparison Shopping Engines

  • The eBay Commerce Network (ECN) accounted for 34% of all CSE ad spend in Q1, up from 26% last year.
  • Advertiser revenues produced by Amazon Product Ads were 19% as great as those produced by Google PLAs for those using both platforms, the same figure as Q4.

Display Advertising

  • The Google Display Network (GDN) accounted for 11% of all Google spend for advertisers actively spending on display, up from 6% in Q1 2014.

Ad spend growth on Facebook, including FBX and native ads, accelerated from a 46% Y/Y increase in Q4 to 63% in Q1. The cost of Facebook clicks rose 21% Y/Y, compared to a 9% increase in Q4.

About Merkle

Merkle is a leading data-driven, technology-enabled, global performance marketing agency that specializes in the delivery of unique, personalized customer experiences across platforms and devices. For more than 30 years, Fortune 1000 companies and leading nonprofit organizations have partnered with Merkle to maximize the value of their customer portfolios. The agency’s heritage in data, technology, and analytics forms the foundation for its unmatched skills in understanding consumer insights that drive people-based marketing strategies. Its combined strengths in performance media, customer experience, customer relationship management, loyalty, and enterprise marketing technology drive improved marketing results and competitive advantage. With 7,000 employees, Merkle is headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, with 21 additional offices in the US and 33 offices in Europe and APAC. In 2016, the agency joined the Dentsu Aegis Network. For more information, contact Merkle at 1-877-9-Merkle or visit www.merkle.com.

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